Buying Your First Art Piece: How to Become an Art Collector

Sep 21, 2020

Collecting art is a thrilling adventure — one filled with beauty, the excitement of a great find, and the triumph of a profitable sale. But breaking in can be difficult. While the art world can seem cold and uninviting, all you need is a little guidance.

Below, we’ll outline some key tips to getting started. There is no reason why you can’t become an art collector, as long as you know how to begin.

Where to Start: Learn What You Like

Collecting art begins with knowing what you like. The art world is massive, involving countless artists working in hundreds of mediums in thousands of schools, movements, and styles. When you aren’t putting down any money, it seems so easy to say whether or not something looks good — but once you are looking to buy, it gets a lot more difficult.

And remember: always buy art you actually enjoy. Life is too short to waste time and money on work that you think others like or will make a profit later on. The truth is, even the shrewdest, best educated art collectors can’t predict what will make big returns 100% of the time. And since you will be investing money in these pieces, you should enjoy them while they hang on your wall.

Luckily, educating yourself on the art world is one of the best parts of being a collector — it means you get to look at a lot of art.

Art Sharing Websites
Platforms like Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr are made for sharing images. Searching for pieces you already know you like will lead you to new pieces you’ve never seen. Pretty soon you’ll be falling down a rabbit hole of intriguing work.

Other art focused websites, like artnet and Artsy, have information and articles on the art world. These websites can bring you in touch with art you might not have found on your own, expanding you horizons.

Museums, Local Galleries and Art Fairs
Nothing beats seeing art in person. Well curated museums will often include educational information about certain schools or movements that you respond to. Local galleries are usually run by people happy to share their experience and knowledge, and guide both new and experienced collectors to help them make informed purchasing decisions.

Art fairs are fantastic places to discover artists and meet like minded art lovers. Walking around and seeing everything that’s available gives you lots of new experiences to consider.

Whether online or offline, you will also end up making friendships with other art lovers. These are great resources for discussion and inspiration.

What to Buy: Find Great Art for Great Prices

Beginning your art collection means finding the right piece, getting it for a fair price, and taking care of your purchase.

Understand Your Needs
When buying art, remember that it will most likely stay in your home or office. Keep in mind the places you’ll put the work: above the staircase landing, by the desk, or in the kitchen. Note the dimensions of the space and colors.

You’ll also need to finance the endeavor. This is worth taking very seriously. Art is seen as a great investment because it can appreciate in value over time, but you cannot quickly sell your collection if you get in a fiscal pinch. For budgeting purposes, each purchase should be seen as final.

On top of the price of a piece of art, remember that you might also face other costs such as shipping, insurance, taxes, and other fees.

Go Where the Artists Are
Once you know what you need, it’s time to find the art you are actually going to buy. An exciting step! Let’s keep in mind that you are starting your collection and not ready to bid a million dollars at a Christie’s auction. Today, the best places to find art for great prices are (in no particular order):

  • Instagram
  • Art shows and fairs
  • Graduates from art school
  • Art auctions

Instagram makes following artists easy. Through their accounts, you can effortlessly connect to related artists. With a little bit of scrolling and tapping, you’ll have your finger on the pulse of your favorite corner of the art world. Many artists are now selling directly through Instagram and advertising where you can find and purchase their work. Buying from the artist will almost always get you the lowest price possible.

Art shows and fairs are another great place to look. If you live in or near a city of almost any size, there are events going on all the time. You just need to be on the lookout. Here you can hold face-to-face conversations with artists and other collectors — two groups you’ll be buying from in the future. As an added bonus, there is nothing quite like the energy of an art show — the free wine and cheese are great, too.

If you research the graduates coming out of art school programs, you’re likely to find some of tomorrow’s big names. They cannot all become major successes, even when they make great work, but because they are starting out in their careers, you can generally purchase their work for a low price. A few smart choices and a little bit of luck will make for big gains later on.

Art auctions are still another way to find art at good prices. There are a number of ways to attend one, both online and off, and there are plenty of resources to understand what is available to buy.

How to Spend Less Money
The main way collectors can avoid overspending is by focusing on:

  • Works on paper
  • Prints

Works on paper are typically not very expensive, seen as below the mighty canvas or even board. These can still be striking in their beauty and, with the right signature, gain in value over time.

Many artists will sell prints of their work for low prices, and new collectors are always interested in that. These can be smart buys, but it is important to know exactly what you’re getting.

Fine art prints are replications of works that cost less than the original. If you are buying with no intent to sell later on, buy any print that suits your tastes. However, if you are treating the purchase as an investment, make sure to purchase limited edition prints.

Limited edition prints are created in small batches. They are numbered and signed, ensuring that they hold more value and have the ability to appreciate over time. While they won’t bring the same kinds of returns as original artworks, they often cost significantly less, allowing you to buy (and enjoy) more artwork.

How to Handle and Frame

A work of art, handled correctly, is a solid investment and will provide joy and aesthetic value for a lifetime. If handled incorrectly, it’s an easy way to waste your money.

It is always important to make sure you know how to handle and store your pieces correctly. If you can, ask the artist or dealer that you are buying from. Never be afraid to ask!

With two dimensional art, you will always want the work framed. Find a framer you can trust and have it done right the first time. Of course, you want the frame to look good — but just as important is its ability to protect your piece from moisture and UV light, among other concerns.

Getting into art collecting can be a daunting task, but you only need to take the steps one at a time. Start small and get your bearings. Soon enough, you’ll be surrounded by great art.

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